Listening in Depth to Airto’s Masterpiece – Fingers

More from Airto

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This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

The Highs Are Back

This copy has the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play this against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you don’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these.

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Fingers

This is the most problematical track on the entire album — please DO NOT JUDGE the album by this song! The sound is much better on the tracks that follow. This may have been an attempt to get that hot hit single sound for track one, the kind that would jump out of your radio speaker, but the effect can be a bit much, depending on how low distortion and high resolution your equipment is. The better your system, the less of a problem you will have getting this track to play well. If this track sounds decent, everything after it will really shine.

The biggest problem one typically runs into is a lack of bass and lower midrange. On the better copies the bass will be fine on the next track and those that follow.

Romance of Death

The guitar work on this track is stellar, some of the best musicianship on the album. Credit must go to Rudy Van Gelder for making the guitar jump out of the mix. One of the things he can do, practically better than anyone, is make a lead instrument sound as big and as bold as you’ve ever heard it.

Merry-Go-Round

This track has a tendency to be overly compressed. Some stampers have so much added compression that the guitar and the percussion in the middle of the soundfield turn into undifferentiated muck. Those copies are what we refer to as “Not-So-Hot Stampers”.

Wind Chant

Side Two

Note that the sound on side two tends to be more open, rich and clear as a rule.

Parana

Perhaps my favorite track on the album; it builds into a chanting jam towards the end of its six minutes that grows to be as powerfully hypnotic as any I know. It’s the main reason this is a Desert Island Disc for me. I simply cannot get enough of Airto’s driving rhythms on this album. I’ve been playing this record my entire adult life and never once tired of it.

We wish Airto had made a string of albums as good as this one, but unfortunately we are not aware of any others of this quality. Which makes sense I suppose: one awe-inspiring masterpiece is more than most artists will ever produce.

San Francisco River
Tombo in 7/4

Rudy Van Gelder Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

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RUDY VAN GELDER is one of our favorite recording and mastering engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Rudy Van Gelder engineered albums, along with plenty of our famous commentary.

The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music — uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a wide and often deep soundstage, surrounded by the natural space and cool air of his New Jersey studio. As our stereo has improved, and we’ve found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his “you-are-there” live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more.
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The Said and the Unsaid – Stravinsky’s Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

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Another entry in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series.

For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.

This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

When Led Zeppelin IV Sounds This Good, We Get Letters

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LED ZEPPELIN IV

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Michael just got a nice copy of Zep IV from us. His letter follows.

Well son of a bitch. Do you know how many tube combinations, cartridge adjustments, turntable adjustments, speakers, speaker placements, and other hocus pocus shit I’ve gone through after listening to a Led Zeppelin album I have where Bonham was barely present and Page’s guitar would wear my ears out within 2 songs thinking this can’t be the way they sounded…I know Bonham hit those drums hard. Well, that ain’t the case with the Zeppelins I recently purchased from you. Shit man, finally. It’s alive! Thank you Tom.
Michael S

My reply:

Mike,
Glad to hear it! If you ever win the lottery we’ll get you a White Hot copy and REALLY blow your mind. About one out of ten with the right stampers gets When the Levee Breaks to sound the way you want it to.  When I finally heard it about two or three years ago I could hardly believe it. Most pressings just plain suck.

Good to know you are giving the boys a good home to live in, where they can be appreciated.

TP

More Led Zeppelin

Today’s Mediocre LP – Pet Sounds on DCC

More Pet Sounds

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Sonic Grade: C-

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.

Advice on How to Avoid Making This Rookie Record Collecting Mistake on Kind of Blue

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Record Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better.

This is simply not true, and those of our customers who have purchased White Hot Stamper pressings from us that turned out to be reissues know exactly what I am talking about. This is especially true for the records we sell by  The Beatles. No original pressing has every won a shootout.

Let’s get back to Kind of Blue. Is the ’50s original always better, is the ’70s reissue always better, is the ’60s 360 pressing always better? No to one, two and three.

Why? Because no pressing is always better. All pressings are unique and should only be judged on their merits, and you do that by playing them, not by looking at their labels. For us this truth is practically axiomatic. It is in fact the premise of our entire business. Over the course of the 28 years we have been selling records we have never found any compelling evidence to invalidate it.

The day that someone can accurately predict the sound quality of a specific record by looking at the label or cover is a day I do not expect to come, ever.

A Larger Point

But there is a larger point to be made. Let’s assume that the best original Six Eye Columbia pressings can be the best — the most Tubey Magical, the most involving, the most real. You just happen to have a clean pressing, and you absolutely love it.

But is it the best? How could you possibly know that?

Unless you have done a comparison with many copies under controlled conditions, you simply cannot know where on the curve your copy rightfully belongs.

Perhaps you have a mediocre original. Or a mediocre 360 Label copy. Since you haven’t done a massive shootout you simply have no way of knowing just how good sounding the album can be.

If that’s the case, even stipulating that the best early pressings are potentially the best sounding, that lowly ’70s Red Label copy that got tossed back into the record pond could very well have turned out to be the best sounding pressing you ever heard.

But Bad Audiophile Record Collector Thinking prevents the very possibility of such an outcome. A record never auditioned cannot win a shootout, even a simple head to head competition against the copy you alreadyhave in your collection. The result? Your Kind of Blue never gets any better. You’re stuck, at what level nobody knows, especially you.

Our advice is to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, letting your ears, not your eyes, become your one and only trusted guide to the best sounding pressings.

And please consider us a trustworthy second in line, a source for the best sounding titles that you do not have time to shoot out for yourself.

Here’s more on Kind of Blue.

Martin Birch Knows How to Get The Big Rock Sound on Vinyl

Martin Birch Engineered Albums with Hot Stampers

Martin Birch Engineered Albums We’ve Reviewed

 

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When you get a Hot Stamper presssing like this one, Machine Head is a True Rock and Roll Demo Disc. Since our stereo is all about playing these kinds of records, and playing them at good loud levels as nature — and the artists — intended, we had a helluva time with Machine Head.

It had the kind of presence and energy that puts most copies of this album to shame. It’s also amazingly spacious, the result no doubt of it being recorded practically live in the studio. On the best copies you can really hear the sound bouncing off the studio walls, just as you can on the best Zep, AC/DC and Bad Co. albums. You can just tell they are all playing this one live: it’s so relaxed and natural and REAL sounding.

The vocalist is no doubt in a booth, but everyone else seems to be in a lively studio. With lovely extension up top this was a very sweet copy that cried out to be turned up good and loud. The louder we played it the better it sounded!

Domestic Vinyl?

Forget ’em, they’re clearly made from dubs. Some are better than others, but none can compete with the better British pressings such as this one..

With your permission we’d like to “borrow” some of the commentary from the listing we did a while back for Bad Company’s second album, since so much of what’s good about that record is exactly what’s good about this one.

What You Want from the Best Copies

The best pressings give you exactly what you want from this brand of straight ahead rock and roll: presence in the vocals; solid, note-like bass; big punchy drums, and the kind of live-in-the-studio energetic, clean and clear sound. (AC/DC is another band with that kind of live studio sound. With big speakers and the power to drive them YOU ARE THERE.)

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound this good. The average copy is really a piece of trash, as is the awful 180 gram version that was recently remastered. This is the way to go.

The Dirty Little Secret of the Record Biz Part 3

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Hits That Are Made from Dub Tapes

The sound of some songs on some greatest hits albums can be BETTER than the sound of those very same songs on the best original pressings.

How can that be you ask, dumbfounded by the sheer ridiculousness of such a statement? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. It’s a dirty little secret in the record biz that sometimes the master for the presumptive Hit Single (or singles) is pulled from the album’s final two track master mix tape and used to make the 45 single, the idea being that the single is what people are going to hear on the radio and want to buy, or, having heard it sound so good on the radio, go out and buy the album. One way or another, it’s the single that will do the selling of the band’s music. This is clearly the case with the albums of Traffic.
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Some of the Better Sounding Live Albums We’ve Played, Starting with Deep Purple’s Classic Made In Japan

More Copies of Made in Japan


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Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we have never heard.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, David Live, Johnny Cash At San Quentin, Donny Hathaway Live, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, Performance – Rockin The Fillmore, Live Wire – Blues Power, Waiting For Columbus, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and Live at Leeds. I would be proud to have any of them in my collection.

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put it right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.

More Great Live Albums For Sale

More Great Live Albums We’ve Reviewed

 

One of Our Favorite Engineers – Glyn Johns

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GLYN JOHNS is one of our favorite producers and recording / mixing engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Glyn Johns engineered or produced albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries.

It was only about 2000 or so that we discovered what an amazing engineer and producer Glyn Johns is. A Hot Stamper of the first Eagles album on the original Asylum White Label blew my mind, produced and engineered by none other, so I quickly started looking around for other records he might have had a hand in. How about Who’s Next? Let It Bleed? On The Border (my personal favorite Eagles album)? Led Zeppelin’s debut? And of course, Sticky Fingers, a record that I’ve always known had the potential for great sound — you can hear it buried under all that bad vinyl and groove wear. You can hear it; you just can’t enjoy it through the noise.
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